The Frugal Maker

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

The quickest way to fail when launching a digital product is to let your expenses surpass your revenue. There’s nothing worse than having to shut down your startup prematurely because it’s not sustainable. I’ve been through this myself (R.I.P. Score Zone 😢). Because of my experience, I’ve made it a priority to keep product ideas lean and cheap — if not completely free of overhead when starting out.

This article compiles a list of battle-tested production-ready products and services I use in my own apps. Every product listed offers a free tier. Never pay more than you need again.


Serverless Infrastructure

Google Firebase is by far the most robust suite of serverless tools for your app. The free tier gives you virtually everything you need for your online infrastructure. Real-time pub/sub database, machine learning, on-demand cloud functions, email/phone/provider authentication, web hosting, file storage, crash reporting, analytics, A/B testing, remote config, and deep links are just some of the tools available to you on the free tier. If your app is successful enough to warrant more, you can upgrade to a pay as you go plan.


Version Control

GitHub’s free plan will give you up to 3 collaborators and unlimited private repositories. That’s more than enough for most small teams bootstrapping their startup.

One Signal

Push Notifications

For best-in-class push notifications, OneSignal has everything. Their SDKs make wiring up both background push notifications and in-app notifications a breeze. The free plan covers up to 30K subscribers, and tiered paid plans will accommodate anything you need.


Error Tracking

To have a clear picture of what errors are happening on your server, you need solid error tracking software. Rollbar will notify you when your server triggers a new error or when it sees an error escalate, and will even create a GitHub issue for you automatically.


Real-time Customer Messaging

You wouldn’t know it from their pricing page, but you can add a live chatbot to your site for free with Intercom. If you don’t need any of their extensive advanced features like custom bots or autoresponders, the basic chatbot is top-notch. Our Intercom chat messenger has become our most popular customer support channel.


Email Marketing

For non-transactional emails, Mailchimp is the absolute best. Their free plan covers up to 2,000 contacts in your mailing list. Add a custom domain to your campaign, pick from a number of quality templates, or upload your own custom template.


Online Payments

Stripe makes it so easy to charge money online. There is no monthly fee for the majority of their services, but they will take 3% of any sales. Stripe offers a phenomenal platform for subscription-based software, including multi-tiered plans, coupons, automated invoicing, and a robust API with excellent documentation.


Subscription Data

If you have a SaaS business, it’s essential to have a clear picture of a wide variety of metrics, including churn rate, monthly/annual recurring revenue, customer lifetime value, and retention. ChartMogul is free for any business bringing in less than $10K in MRR. Integrate with Stripe, iOS, and Google Play data seamlessly.


Twitter Social Tool

Twitter has morphed into a cross between a marketing platform, status updater, and customer relationship manager for my brand accounts. If you have a product, it’s in your best interest to have a solid Twitter presence. TweetDeck makes managing all your brand accounts in one place a breeze. And it’s completely free.

What about the rest?

There are plenty of other services that I willingly pay for, like email, IaaS, DNS management, and domain registration to name a few. Those services don’t offer a free tier, so I haven’t included them in this list. There are free (or nearly free) alternatives to some of those, but I’m only listing products I use in my own products, so they didn’t make the cut.

If you use a service for software development that has a free tier, I want to know all about it. There have never been so many inexpensive tools to help get your idea off the ground in our lifetime. It’s an amazing time to be a maker!